When Old Sarum Airfield opened in 1917 one of the first aircraft to use the airfield was the BE2b and we are delighted offer a home to a full size replica of the very aircraft type.
For the full story of the history of the BE2b and the creation of the replica aircraft please click Read More
Pictures of the aircraft arriving are in the gallery
We hope to display the aircraft when we hold events but if you wish to see the aircraft in the hangar please contact the ground staff or the tower and enjoy a personal visit.
Special thanks to David Acton and the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection for the decision to keep the aircraft here and for the wealth of information we have been able to bring you about it.
In 1917 the Royal Flying Corp were desperately short of pilots and a number of training airfields were set up around the Salisbury Plain. Airfields were already established at Upavon and Netheravon but it was decided to have further specific training airstrips at Old Sarum, Larkhill and one near Amesbury (Boscombe Down).
At 9.20 on the morning of 25 November 1917, Lt G H Heaton, known as "Bill" to his friends, got airborne in a BE2b. He flew around Amesbury for 20 minutes and landed back on the new grass airstrip. It was to become the first recorded operational movement to take place at what is now the world famous flight test establishment at Boscombe Down.
We know this because the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection has a copy of Bill Heaton's original log book. We also know that there were two earlier flights to position aircraft at the new airfield. The first, a later version BE2b, crashed on landing, probably due to putting a wheel down a rabbit hole, but the pilot walked away unhurt. A second BE2b, airframe number 2783, was sent from Farnborough and it was in this aircraft that Bill Heaton made the first operational sortie.
A few days later the aircraft landed at Old Sarum.
BE2b 2783 'Virgo Intacta'
As 2783 had made the first safe landing at Depot Six, she was christened 'Virgo Intacta' but she was seriously obsolete when she arrived. Of an early design with wing warping instead of ailerons she was of the type known to pilots as "Knuckle Dusters" because the control column used to flail about the cockpit in the slightest turbulence.
She was built by Joncques Aviation Limited in 1914 and was one of a batch of 50 aircraft manufactured under Government contract number A3048. Designed from the outset as an observation platform for the artillery and also to drop bombs to a maximum load of 100lbs, the poor performance and flimsy construction did not permit the mounting of a machine gun. As a result the aircraft was no match for the improved German fighters so was withdrawn from the Western Front in the autumn of 1915 and transferred to aircrew training duties.
2783 served initially with Number 66 Squadron at Filton near Bristol before transferring to Number 58 Squadron at Cramlington just north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in February 1917. She was then transferred to 52 Reserve Squadron in April 1917 and held in store at Farnborough until she arrived at Boscombe Down in November 1917 very well used and very out of date.
The BE2b Project
To give a sense of history and a "beginning", it was decided 4 years ago to construct a full-scale model of BE2b number 2783 "Virgo Intacta".
The BE2b is pertinent not only as the first aircraft to use Old Sarum but it was also the first practical aircraft to be supplied to the Royal Flying Corp and thus has a proven place in British aviation history.
The project has been to build a full-scale model of the aircraft that closely replicates the original but not a detailed replica that is capable of flight. The cost of producing a full flying example are astronomical and outside the financial capabilities of the Collection.
As the model will need to be dismantled and moved on a regular basis, we have used modern techniques and materials that will make a much more robust and longer lasting structure. Even so the aircraft is still not easy to transport as it is large and cumbersome.
The original aircraft would have been made using ash and Sitca spruce for the airframe but these are now expensive and not readily available. After some research and experiments we have used 9 mm Latvian birch plywood and tanilised pine for the wings with the fuselage being made from joinery quality pine and American White Poplar (Tulipwood) for the exposed woodwork.
All these materials are stable, easy to work and relatively inexpensive. The fabric cover of the original aircraft would have been Irish linen but again this is not cheap so we have used medium density calico sheeting, which is both strong and easy to repair if damaged.
Originally, cellulose dope would have been used for the final finish but today it is very costly and not very environmentally friendly. Instead, we have used a modern water based varnish as a primer with a final coating of yacht varnish. We are not that satisfied with the final result so further investigation will be necessary.
Nearly everything on the aircraft has been made from scratch including seats, flying controls, metalwork, instruments, engine etc. There are still a few things that need to be finished such as the exhaust system, some engine components and the windscreens.
Total time: 4.5 years
The number of man hours: millions !!!!
The COST: In the order of £3500
The BE2b evolved from an earlier aircraft, the BE1, designed in 1911 by Geoffrey de Havilland and his chief F M Green who were working for His Majesty's Balloon Factory at Farnborough. The "Factory", later to become the Royal Aircraft Factory, had no authority at the time to build aircraft and so the first designs were manufactured by outside companies such as Handley-Page and Vickers.
The first BE2 was introduced in 1912 and was powered by a 70hp Renault V8 engine and very much resembled the BE1 with lateral control being achieved by wing warping but with a larger tailplane and elevators.
The BE letters stand for Bleriot Experimental under the designation system used by the "Factory" at the time.
On August 12th. 1912, Geoffrey de Havilland broke the British altitude record by reaching 10,560 feet in a BE2 and the type would almost certainly have won the Military Trials that year if government designed aircraft had been allowed to participate.
An improved model BE2b was introduced in 1914. The crew were given higher top decking and the control system was improved with later models having ailerons instead of wing warping and vee-type undercarriages. The aircraft was primarily used as an observation aircraft and bomber carrying a 100lb bomb or an equivalent weight in smaller bombs. The poor performance of the earlier models did not permit the mounting of a machine gun and, as the aircraft were vulnerable to ground fire and no match for the German fighters, they were withdrawn from the Western Front in the autumn of 1915 and transferred to aircrew training duties.
A total of 32 BE2, 15BE2a and 85 BE2b aircraft were made and it was the first practical aircraft to be supplied to the Royal Flying Corp.
None of the original aircraft survive today but a superb replica was built by the Royal Air Force Museum in 1983 at a cost of nearly £20,000. It was built to commemorate the first aviation Victoria Cross awarded, posthumously, to 2nd. Lt W B Rhodes-Moorhouse for his daring bomber raid in a BE2b on Courtrai railway station on April 26th. 1915. This replica is on show at the Museum in Hendon and we are indebted to the Keeper of Aircraft for allowing us access to their aircraft in order for us to build our own full scale model.
- Wing Span: 35ft
- Weight Empty: 1274 lbs
- Length: 29ft. 6in
- Weight Loaded: 1600 lbs
- Wing Area: 352sq.ft
- Maximum Speed: 70 mph at sea level
- Service Ceiling: 10,000ft
- Endurance: 3 hours
Last Updated (Tuesday, 08 September 2009 10:13)